Everyone living in a home with a sunroom or sunspace will tell you that it is the most comfortable room in the house. Many times the homeowner only complaint is that the sunspace should be bigger. Although aesthetics often drive the decision to add a sunspace to a home design, sunspaces can also provide supplemental space heating and a healthy environment for plants and people. In fact, a well-designed sunspace can provide nearly 60% of a home’s winter heating requirements.
In a basic design, sunlight passes through glass or other glazing and warms the sunspace. The windows are either vertical or sloped at an angle. To moderate temperature swings, massive materials (such as masonry or water) can be used to store solar thermal energy and absorb heat. At night or during extended periods of cloudy weather, this “thermal mass” releases the heat it holds in order to heat the interior of the sunspace. Ceilings, walls, foundations and windows insulate the sunspace to minimize heat loss at night and in cold weather.
Few home improvements offer the aesthetic appeal and practical paybacks as a carefully designed and constructed sunspace. Although you may be tempted to tackle the endeavor on your own, it is money well spent to consult with a solar engineer, architect, or contractor who can provide feedback, as well as a computer analysis of your design. Remember, it is much less expensive to make changes on paper than to alter a sunspace once it is built. And after your sunspace is finished, you can enjoy it for years to come.